Where to See Fall Foliage Near Iowa City

The air is growing crisper, mornings are cool enough for a sweatshirt, and the smell of pumpkin spice is in the air.  In many ways this year has been just as strange as the last one, but sure as the seasons change, we are about to be treated to Mother Nature’s fantastic fall color show. Grab a hot apple cider and a pumpkin muffin and you’ve got a wonderful weekend adventure!

Where to See Fall Foliage Near Iowa City

When to Go

The peak of fall colors changes from year to year, based on weather patterns, rainfall, humidity, and other factors. In Iowa, fall foliage generally peaks around mid-October, but keep an eye on local weather forecasts or websites that may be able to offer a more accurate prediction. Generally, the more northern counties will peak earlier then the southernmost counties. The Iowa DNR website is a great resource for predicting when peak colors will occur in different areas of the state.

How to Go

My favorite way to enjoy fall foliage is on a leisurely Sunday afternoon drive, or a great family bike ride. You could also take a walk or hike through a local park or nature preserve. If you’re truly adventurous, you could try a kayak or canoe ride along the Maquoketa or Wapsipinicon Rivers.

Where to Go

You can find beautiful fall colors in a number of places — including state parks and scenic old roads and highways.

A forest view of fall foliage

State Parks

Iowa features many state parks that offer an abundance of fall color, and the best part is that many are an easy day trip from Iowa City! Always check local websites for current, local conditions before heading out.

Pikes Peak State Park
2 hours from Iowa City

There are more than 11-miles of hiking trails available at Pikes Peak State Park.  If you are driving, you can follow County Road X-56 out of the town of McGregor. You can view a 500-foot bluff as well as the bridge connecting Iowa and Wisconsin over the Mississippi River.

Bellevue State Park
1 hour, 45 minutes from Iowa City

Bellevue State Park lies right along the Mississippi River and offers breathtaking views of the water, bluffs, and fall colors. There are hiking trails, scenic overlooks, and nature areas, as well as a butterfly garden open to families. US Highway 52 runs right along the east edge of the park and is a great driving route to see foliage.

Maquoketa Caves State Park
90 minutes from Iowa City

Maquoketa Caves State Park is truly an Iowa gem. The park includes more than 6-miles of interconnected hiking trails, as well as fantastic limestone caves that can be enjoyed by kids and adults alike.  If you plan to explore the caves be sure to have old clothes, good shoes, and a flashlight or headlamp.  Caves Road runs along the east edge of the park and State Highway 428 runs straight through the park.

Wapsipinicon State Park
45 minutes from Iowa City

Wapsipinicon State Park is one of Iowa’s very first state parks. The park includes trails, picnic shelters, and caves for exploring. Within the park, Lower Park Road and Upper Park Road create a driving loop that is beautiful for viewing fall colors.

Lake McBride State Park
25 minutes from Iowa City

Truly in our own backyard, Lake McBride State Park is a great place to view fall foliage.  You can hike the trails or drive through the road that twists through the park. The boat rental area is closed for the season, but if you have your own kayak or canoe you can use a public boat ramps and then view the colors from the calm and placid water.

Wildcat Den State Park
1 hour from Iowa City

Wildcat Den State Park has a well-developed system of trails leading to both natural wonders and historical sites. 181st St., runs north to south through the park, while New Era Road runs along the southern border.

Scenic Byways

A car driving to view fall foliage

Another option for viewing fall colors is simply to hop on one of the old highways that are sometimes forgotten as we zip along the interstate to reach our destination quickly.

These old winding roads often travel through small towns, or wind along rivers, lakes, and streams. Here are a few possibilities that are easily accessible from Iowa City:

For more information about Scenic Byways and attractions in the state of Iowa, visit the Travel Iowa website.

Do you have any other favorite places to view fall foliage? Tell us in the comments!
Sarah Bengtson
Sarah is a proud Iowa native who currently lives in North Liberty with her husband and 2 sons. She grew up in rural Benton county and moved to the Iowa City area in 2005 to attend graduate school at the University of Iowa in Physical Therapy. Now she balances raising two growing boys with a work as a pediatric physical therapist. Outside of work and family, Sarah loves music, playing her cello, running, baking, crochet, church activities, and cheering for the Hawkeyes and the Minnesota Vikings.


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